Preparing Young Talent for Grittier Roles
The range of roles available to child actors and young people has developed significantly since the days of Shirley Temple innocently charming audiences with her curls and tap dancing her way to stardom. These days, young actors are often called upon to deliver content that’s written for broadcast after the watershed, including the gritty realism of socially-aware soap storylines, or parts in films that they are too young to see in the cinema.
With so many roles calling upon young actors to portray adult themes, how can theatre schools, talent agencies and parents prepare them to ensure that they not only give a great performance but also survive the part emotionally unscathed?
It’s an issue that Scream Talent Management has experienced many times with several of our artists securing professional film, TV and theatre roles over the years. Indeed, the alarming Coronation Street grooming storyline featuring Lucy Fallon as Bethany Platt is amongst the most recently broadcast challenging roles for our alumni.
The storyline has involved some very dark and disturbing scenes and Lucy worked closely with Greater Manchester Police and the NSPCC for research, meeting young people who’d lived through some of the experiences she was about to portray on screen.
This kind of engagement with professionals is vital for young actors as they prepare for roles, because it not only enables them to tap into the range of emotions their character will display but also gives them the opportunity to ask questions and get their heads round the darker elements of the issues they will have to explore.
It’s important to remember that the pressure on young actors when working with adult themes is not only about the emotional vulnerability they will experience before, during and after their performances. Young actors will also feel a sense of responsibility towards those who have lived through similar things in real life, which adds to the pressure, particularly for soap storylines that have been so instrumental in raising awareness and encouraging people who’ve previously suffered in silence to seek help or speak out.
Another of our students, Aedan Duckworth, has also been involved in a disturbing grooming story recently, this time in Hollyoaks, where his character, Ollie Morgan, is groomed by his football coach. Once again, he has prepared for his role with support from experts, this time from Survivors Manchester, an organisation that helps men and boys affected by sexual abuse.
Such expert input is vital for this kind of role but support from the young actor’s trusted network or family, teachers and peers is also vital. They need to be able to talk about the pressures of the role throughout the preparation and performance period and both teachers and parents must be ready to answer questions and discuss any disturbing themes.
It’s also quite valid for parents to expect access to scripts so that they can do their own research where necessary and be as prepared as possible to support their son or daughter.
As a Talent agency, we are able to use our students’ roles as a learning exercise for other young actors, preparing them by helping them connect with deeper darker emotions while still protecting their overall wellbeing.
Emotionally charged, difficult scenes are an integral part of a career in acting and the life experience on which those scenes are based can affect people at any age. For young actors, it’s all about achieving a balance between exposure to potentially upsetting content and preparing them for the adult world and their future careers.